Its full title is Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). Movie reviewers were informed that we should refer to the film by its full title initially; after that it would be permissible to just call it Birdman. Director (and co-writer) Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful) opts to present the movie in what looks like one uninterrupted nearly two-hour-long shot. I found that one-shot approach irritating, showy and limiting when I first saw Hitchcock's 1948 film Rope and I feel the same way now. I also think that Birdman's jazzy drum score is annoying as hell.
This puts me in a tiny minority. Most movie reviewers are raving about Birdman and going gaga over the faux feature-length uninterrupted shot. Some of them even singled out the jazzy drum score for praise. Go figure.
I liked Michael Keaton a lot, along with Edward Norton, Zach Galifianakis, Emma Stone and a few of the other actors. The film has some swell visuals and a number of the jokes are good, but too much of Birdman is like a kid at a pool screaming "Look at me! Look at me!" and then doing a belly flop off the diving board.
The story is soooooo meta. The wonderful Keaton, who was, of course, Batman in Tim Burton's smash hit movies, plays Riggan Thomson, an actor famed for playing a super-hero called Birdman in a hit movie franchise. Now Thomson is trying to revitalize his career by using the last of his money to stage a Broadway adaptation (written by him) of Raymond Carver's short story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love." As the play goes into previews, Norton, who is apparently known in "real life" as a difficult-to-work-with Method actor, joins the cast as a difficult-to-work-with Method actor. Later, Naomi Watts, who had a famous make-out scene with a woman in Mulholland Drive, smooches a woman.
My favorite parts of the movie are the sights and sounds in Thomson's head. The opening shows Thomson meditating in the lotus position while hovering a couple of feet above the ground. We see him express anger using telekinesis. And he flies! We hear Birdman say rude, crude things to Thomson like, "People. They love blood, they love action. Not this talky, depressing, philosophical bullshit." and "You were a movie star, remember? Pretentious, but happy. Ignorant, but charming. Now you're just a tiny, bitter cocksucker." NOTE: If you object to the language, I share your outrage. It's wrong to suggest that being a cocksucker is a bad thing.
The thing about the talky, depressing, philosophical bullshit is that it's never clear where it's really aimed. Is Birdman an indictment of Hollywood for playing to the crowds? Because an indictment of lowest common denominator film-making seems odd coming in a movie stuffed with camera gimmicks, eye candy, dirty jokes and stunt casting. Unless that's the biggest meta-joke about Birdman. Could the whole movie simply be Alejandro Inarritu ponderously swallowing his own tale? Hey, did you see how I spelled tale? See, I can be clever and unfocused too!
The Best of Me
★ (out of five)
The Best of Me is based on a bestselling novel by Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook, Dear John) and that's probably all I should say. If you like Sparks' romances, you're certainly not going to listen when I tell you that this is a gooey mess that follows the same path as his other stuff. This time it's about Amanda (Michelle Monaghan) and Dawson (James Marsden), former high school sweethearts that reunite after 20 years for the funeral of a friend and must face the problems that zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
Bill Murray is at his best in this very entertaining story as a grumpy old cuss who reluctantly becomes babysitter for the 11-year-old son (Jaeden Lieberher) of his new neighbor (Melissa McCarthy). The film skirts this close to sappiness, but Murray is so funny and interesting that you don't mind. Thankfully, the interactions between Murray and the kid feel like the real thing. McCarthy plays it mostly straight in one of her best performances yet. Chris O'Dowd is delightful as a down-to-earth priest. Naomi Watts and Terrence Howard co-star. Look for a feature-length review in next week's NUVO.